One punch at a time for transgender boxer's fight to compete

Elliott Almond, The Mercury News on

Published in Boxing

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Boxer Patricio Manuel was walking alone in his East Los Angeles neighborhood a few weeks ago after a training run when a police officer approached him and asked what he was doing.

As a black man, Manuel, 33, was used to extra scrutiny from the police. As a black transgender man, the first to compete in a professional boxing match, he was used to extra scrutiny period: He has encountered it regularly, he said, since he began a medical transition from a woman to a man six years ago.

"When I started passing as a man, I was passing as a black man," he said this week at Levi's Stadium, after a symposium on LGBTQ athletes, sponsored by the 49ers and San Jose State's Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change.

"Suddenly the world was treating me very differently," he added. "Now I'm used to walking around being seen as a threat."

Manuel said he'd rather be seen as a threat in the boxing ring, where he once won five national amateur women's titles, and came close to qualifying for the London Olympics in 2012.

In sports involving transgender athletes, the biggest debates usually focus on the fairness of people who are genetically male competing in women's events, like Renee Richards playing tennis in the 1970s. Transgender athletes Parinya Charoenphol, a boxer, and Fallon Fox, an MMA fighter, have faced such backlash in recent years for competing against women.


Manuel, competing in men's events, has a slightly different challenge.

"Every time I go in there as a black trans man I don't get to just be myself," said Manuel, who has tattooed the word "Bash" on one hand and "Back" on the other. "I am someone who is willing to risk being hated by you to live my truth."

He said when he entered the ring for his professional debut Dec. 8 -- in a fight at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio in the super flyweight division (128 pounds) -- he heard every possible jeer and cheer.

Manuel tried to focus instead on his opponent, Hugo Aguilar of Mexico, and he succeeded: he controlled much of the four-round bout to win in a decision that was unanimous.


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